PoliticsHome | Only the latest five entries on the PhiWire are visible to non-subscribers
- Sign up to see last 24 hours
Dont have an account?Sign up here
Tuesday 13th September 2011 | 13:24
Crude analysis isn't enough
The new constituencies map published this morning by the Guardian Datastore is an exceptional piece of work, and reveals the seismic changes to the English political map, from splitting the Isle of Wight to boroughs of London having no fewer than 6 bits of parliamentary seat within them (Lambeth, the most ludicrous example, is proposed to contain all or parts of Bermondsey & Waterloo, Battersea & Vauxhall, Clapham Common, Tooting & Streatham, Brixton and Mitcham).
They have also provided a ‘crude analysis’ of their predicted results for the constituencies, as they would have voted in 2010. Many of the ‘big name’ scalps touted for decapitation at the hands of the commission are saved on this map: Vince Cable would have a majority of nearly 5000 in the new Teddington & Hanworth seat (while Zac Goldsmith’s seat becomes neck and neck with the Lib Dems), Iain Duncan Smith would hang on to his new Chingford and Edmonton seat, Tim Farron would win his battle with Rory Stewart in Cumbria and either of the new Leeds seats joining parts of his Morley & Outwood constituency would seem to suit Ed Balls well.
More high profile scalps on this model include Green leader Caroline Lucas, who comes notionally third in the new Brighton Pavilion and Hove and Pensions Minister Steve Webb loses Yate by around 600 votes.
The ‘crude’ system, however, is just that. The system of using proportions of existing constituencies doesn’t really work in producing notional results, as most seats, especially in marginal suburbs, are far from uniform. In the new Ealing constituency, Conservative Angie Bray theoretically loses out to a Labour candidate by a few thousand votes, as her constituency takes in wards from solidly Labour Ealing North. The wards moving out into a new Hammersmith & Acton seat, however, are strongly Labour, while the Conservatives hold two thirds of the councillors in the wards entering the seat. As such, Bray’s seat actually becomes a lot better for the Conservatives.
Similarly, much as Caroline Lucas’ seat now includes wards from the Conservative/Labour marginals of Hove and Brighton Kemptown, the new seat takes in all of the city centre, with no fewer than 20 of the 21 councillors being from the Green Party.
Moreover, the much vaunted ‘Abolition of Nadine Dorries’ or ‘Ed Balls’ doesn’t tell the full story. As Labour MP Stephen Pound, who would be fine in the new Greenford & Northolt seat, said yesterday “it’s like musical chairs with machetes”. Nadine Dorries, for instance, may feel she has as good a claim to the new South West Bedfordshire seat as her colleague Andrew Selous.
For these MPs, it’s a selection game. Whichever Conservative fights the new South West Bedfordshire seat will be returned to parliament in 2015. Just as whoever fights Leeds South West and Morley for Labour, and Mr Balls seems a likely candidate, would start a heavy favourite.
The willingness of MPs to stand down, perhaps ably assisted by the offer of a peerage, makes it ever easier for neighbouring seats to find a compromise candidate. Ken Clarke seems a likely candidate to go happily upstairs, if he doesn’t fancy taking down rookie Labour MP Lilian Greenwood in the new Nottingham South and Westbridgford.
In fact, the ability to play a highly co-ordinated game that is probably better compared to a jigsaw will prove more than possible for all but a few Conservative and Labour MPs. That said, the huge number of new members elected in the great expenses churn of 2010 may complicate the situation, as will members of the party’s candidates lists who have been hovering around an ageing MP, only to see their neighbour swoop in to take the seat.
Liberal Democrat hammering
This is exactly why the Liberal Democrats were always going to be hammered by these changes, as we predicted in June. The fact they have so few MPs already makes the jigsaw of fitting people into any number of seats impossible. Due to the targeted nature of the party’s campaigning, any changes in constituency composition, almost by definition, will involve the inclusion of wards where the party is extremely weak and any activists have in the past been diverted towards the target parliamentary seat. The prospects for Greg Mulholland (Leeds NW), Gordon Birtwistle (Burnley), John Leech (Manchester Withington), David Ward (Bradford East) and Norman Baker (Lewes) look especially bleak, sitting as they do in fairly electorally isolated constituencies surrounded by wards from opposing parties.
Moreover, in the changed political climate, the main hope of Liberal Democrat MPs looking to hold their seats will be the trappings of incumbency: the ability to be presented as a long-standing ‘local champion’ with thousands of casework successes, and an appeal above and beyond politics. In new wards, however, they won’t be able to make such a strong claim.
Some will argue that Liberal Democrat MPs such as Sarah Teather have successfully battled hugely adverse boundaries in the past. That, however, was then. A situation in which far fewer people, having had little contact with the party in the past, would be open to consider supporting them, makes this transition far more difficult. The Liberal Democrat wipeout in constituencies in mainland Scotland was no doubt hurt by boundary changes displacing a sense of personal incumbency in an area. As such, in these new areas, Liberal Democrat MPs will have a much weaker ability to insulate themselves against a dreadful national picture.
These practical and electoral calculations will no doubt shape whether the changes actually come into force, especially if scores of Liberal Democrats refuse to vote for their own demise.